Bahá'í Faith in the United Kingdom

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The Bahá'í Faith in the United Kingdom started in 1898[1] when Mrs. Mary Thornburgh-Cropper (d. 1938), an American by birth, become the first Bahá'í in England. Through the 1930s, the number of Bahá'ís in the United Kingdom grew, leading to a pioneer movement beginning after the Second World War with sixty percent of the British Bahá'í community eventually relocating. At the 2011 UK Census, there were 5,021 Bahá'ís in England and Wales.[2]


Earliest phase[edit]

Scholar Moojan Moomen has identified the first account in the West as being January 8, 1845 as an exchange of British diplomatic reports not published in the newspapers.[3] This was an account of the first Letter of the Living to be sent on a mission by the Báb, whom Bahá'ís accept as a precursor of their religion. He was the second Letter of the Living and first Babí martyr, Mullá `Alí-i-Bastámí. These exchanges were between Sir Henry Rawlinson who wrote first to Sir Stratford Canning. Follow-up exchanges continued through to April 1846 where diplomatic records of events end. Ottoman state archives affirm his arrival in Istanbul where he is then sentenced to serve in the naval ship yards at hard labor - the Ottoman ruler refusing to banish him as it would be "difficult to control his activities and prevent him spreading his false ideas."[3]

The first newspaper/public reference to the religious movement began with coverage of the Báb which occurred in The Times on 1 November 1845 which relied on Muslim reactions to the new religion.[4][5] This newspaper account was echoed many times in local and far distant newspapers into early 1846.

In 1853 there was an event which caused great suffering on Babís. The Babís were blamed for an attempted assassination of the Shah of Persia. Recent scholarship has identified a fringe element distinct from all the major aspects of the religion, its community and leadership at the time.[6][7] Nevertheless, coverage in newspapers at the time often echoed the Persian government's view blaming the Babís and Babís in large numbers were in fact executed as a result.[3]

There was then a British mission in Tehran, Persia, and it reported on the events regarding Bábism during that period and after Bahá'u'lláh's banishment to Baghdad. The British consul-general of Baghdad offered him British citizenship and offered to arrange for a residence for him in India or any place he wished. Bahá'u'lláh refused the offer.[8] After being further banished from Baghdad, Bahá'u'lláh wrote a specific letter or "tablet" addressed to Queen Victoria commenting favourably on the British parliamentary system and commending the Queen for the fact that her government had ended slavery in the British Empire.[9] She, in response to the tablet, is reported to have said, though the original record is lost, that "If this is of God, it will endure; if not, it can do no harm."[10][11]

In 1879, on the developing trade relations Dutchman Johan Colligan entered into partnership with two Bahá'ís, Haji Siyyid Muhammad-Hasan and Haji Siyyid Muhammad-Husayn, who were known as the King and Beloved of Martyrs. These two Bahá'ís were arrested and executed because the Imám-Jum'ih at the time owed them a large sum of money for business relations and instead of paying them would confiscate their property.[12] Their execution was committed despite Colligan's testifying to their innocence. He did manage to motivate Persian merchants to defend their innocence and there was a brief respite in their suffering which was witnessed by Edward Slack then serving in the British Bengal civil service, memoirs of which he published in 1882.[13]

In addition to such coverage, Edward G. Browne of Cambridge University produced significant materials on the history of the religion and in April 1890 was granted four interviews with Bahá'u'lláh after he had arrived in the area of Akka and left the only detailed description by a Westerner.[1]

After Mrs. Mary Thornburgh-Cropper became a Bahá'í in 1898, the second person and the first native person to become a Bahá'í was Miss Ethel Rosenberg (d.1930), in 1899. Dr. Frederick D'Evelyn was an Irishman from Belfast who moved to the United States and became a Bahá'í in 1901 and who served on the forerunner to the United States Bahá'í National Spiritual Assembly.[14] Another distinguished Bahá'í was Lady Blomfield, second wife to architect Sir Arthur Blomfield.[15] Lady Blomfield was a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the British Isles for eight years, an accomplished author, and a humanitarian who assisted in founding the Save the Children Fund and the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child and its adoption by the League of Nations;[15][16] she joined the religion in 1907.[17] Other noteworthy people who became early members of the religion included George Townshend (an Irishman, but Ireland was then part of the United Kingdom) and Scotsman John Esslemont.

Pre First World War[edit]

Other mentions of the Bahá'í Faith included the Archdeacon Wilberforce mentioning the religion in a sermon at the Church of St. John in Westminster in March 1911. Due to this mention, great interest was generated, and a Bahá'í reading room was opened.[1]

In 1910, `Abdu'l-Bahá, then head of the Bahá'í Faith, embarked on a three-year journey to Egypt, Europe, and North America, spreading the Bahá'í message.[18] During his travels, he visited England in the autumn of 1911. On September 10 he made his first public appearance before an audience at the City Temple, London, with the English translation spoken by Wellesley Tudor Pole.[19][20] `Abdu'l-Bahá returned to the British Isles, visiting Bahá'ís in Liverpool, London, Edinburgh, Oxford, and Bristol in 1912-13.[1] See `Abdu'l-Bahá's journeys to the West.

In 1914, the Bahá'ís present in England had organised themselves into a committee, though it lapsed after February 1916.[1] Also the co-editor of the Encyclopaedia Biblica, Thomas Kelly Cheyne, became a member of the religion by 1914, though he was to die the next year.[21]

After his last return to Palestine `Abdu'l-Bahá mentioned various lands around the world that the religion should be introduced to and referred to WWI and qualities of those who seek to serve the religion. This took the form of a these series of letters, or tablets, to the followers of the religion in the United States in 1916-1917; these letters were compiled together in the book Tablets of the Divine Plan. The seventh of the tablets mentioned European regions. It was written on April 11, 1916, but was delayed in being presented in the United States until 1919—after the end of the First World War and the Spanish flu. The seventh tablet was translated and presented on April 4, 1919, and published in Star of the West magazine on December 12, 1919 and mentioned the islands.[22] He says:

"Therefore, O ye believers of God! Show ye an effort and after this war spread ye the synopsis of the divine teachings in the British Isles, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Portugal, Rumania, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Greece, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Monaco, San Marino, Balearic Isles, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Crete, Malta, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Shetland Islands, Hebrides and Orkney Islands."[23]

During World War I Tudor Pole served in the Directorate of Military Intelligence in the Middle East and was directly involved in addressing the concerns raised by the Ottoman threats against `Abdu'l-Bahá, which ultimately required General Allenby altering his plans for the prosecution of the war in the Palestine theatre.[20]

Interwar period[edit]

Following the events of the First World War and the knighting of `Abdu'l-Bahá by the British Mandate for Palestine for his humanitarian efforts during the war,[18] the Bahá'í administration for the United Kingdom started to form. In 1921, while Tudor Pole was Secretary of the Local Spiritual Assembly in London,[24] the telegram announcing the passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá by his sister, Bahíyyih Khánum, arrived at Tudor Pole's home in London, and it was there read by Shoghi Effendi.[25] A Bahá'í Spiritual Assembly for England (also called All-England Bahá'í Council) was set up in May 1922 and held its first meeting in London on 17 June 1922, with the first Local Spiritual Assemblies being formed in London, Manchester and Bournemouth. On 13 October 1923, in London, the National Spiritual Assembly of England came into being; in 1930 this became the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the British Isles. Hasan Balyuzi came to England in 1932 and was immediately elected to the National Assembly. He was annually re-elected until 1960, as well as named a Hand of the Cause in 1957. Local Assemblies were founded in Bradford and Torquay in 1939.[1]

During this time notable Britons who became Bahá'ís included Richard St. Barbe Baker - forester, environmental activist, and author - who joined the religion around 1924.[26] Mark Tobey, an American artist who stayed in Britain from 1930–38, held Bahá'í study classes in Dartington Hall in Devon and lectures in Torquay. As a result of this activity two famous artists became Bahá'ís: Bernard Leach, the world-famous potter, in about 1940, and Reginald Turvey, a prominent South African painter, in 1936. Also in the 1930s a whole host of activities began - a Bahá'í theatre group was formed in London, the Bahá'í Journal was instituted, Bahá'í summer schools began, and the tradition of a winter Bahá'í conference was established. Local Spiritual Assemblies were then formed in Bradford and Torquay in 1939, while the National Assembly achieved legal standing with its incorporation.[1] John Ferraby became a Bahá'í in 1941 and was named as a Hand of the Cause - the 4th in the nation's history - in 1957. Furthermore, British Bahá'í families moving to Australia helped found the Bahá'í Faith in Australia during the 1920s.[27][28]

Post Second World War[edit]

In 1946, a great pioneer movement began implementing the Tablets of the Divine Plan with sixty percent of the British Bahá'í community eventually relocating.[1] It is estimated that between 1951 and 1993, Bahá'ís from the United Kingdom settled in 138 countries. Intrantionally this effort would take the Bahá'í Faith to Scotland and Wales and raising the numbers of Local Assemblies in the British Isles from five to twenty-four, among which four being in the large cities of Edinburgh, Belfast, and Cardiff. In 1950-1 the Baha'is of the British Isles pioneered to Tanganyika, Uganda, and Kenya, and in 1953, Bahá'ís moved to the Scottish islands, as well as the Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.[1]

Tristan da Cunha is often characterized as one of the most remote places humans inhabit.[29][30][31] It is an island group in the south Atlantic which is part of the United Kingdom as a British overseas territory called Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; Saint Helena has had a Bahá'í population[32] since 1954.[33] No outsiders are allowed to buy land or settle on Tristan.[34]

Three luminaries[edit]

In 1955 Shoghi Effendi, then head of the religion, posthumously described three individuals as the "three luminaries of the Irish, English and Scottish Bahá'í communities".[35]

  • Thomas Breakwell was born in Woking, England, and heard of the religion at the age of 29 while in Paris in the summer of 1901 while on one of his regular vacations from the United States where he was working.[36] After a pilgrimage to Acre, he remained in Paris at the request of `Abdu'l-Bahá quitting his job in the cotton mills of the American South out of a sense of sin where child labour was still the norm.[37] Breakwell died in 1902 of tuberculosis. Heartbroken at his passing `Abdu'l-Bahá wrote a moving and inspiring tablet.[38]
  • John Esslemont was from Scotland and was the author of the well-known introductory book on the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era,[39] which was originally published in 1923 and has been translated into numerous languages and remains a key introduction to the Bahá'í religion.[40] He was named posthumously by Shoghi Effendi as the first of the Hands of the Cause he appointed, and as one of the Disciples of `Abdu'l-Bahá.[41] He was also an accomplished medical doctor and linguist, becoming proficient in western and eastern languages.
  • George Townshend was born in Ireland and began his advocacy of the Bahá'í religion around 1920 though an Anglican Church clergyman. In 1947 he tendered a very public renouncement of his orders to the Anglican Church in his 70th year during a period of expansion of the Bahá'í Faith across the British Commonwealth and its former territories. He later became a Hand of the Cause. He was the author of numerous works like Christ and Bahá’u’lláh.[42]

Resting place of Shoghi Effendi[edit]

Monument over Shoghi Effendi's resting place

On 4 November 1957, Shoghi Effendi, head of the religion, died in London, and thus the city has become a centre to which Bahá'ís from all over the world come. His mortal remains lie in the New Southgate Cemetery in London. Directions to his resting place are posted online.

First Bahá'í World Congress[edit]

In 1963, the number of Bahá'í assemblies in the United Kingdom totalled 50, and the British community hosted the first Bahá'í World Congress. It was held in the Royal Albert Hall and chaired by Hand of the Cause Enoch Olinga, where approximately 6,000 Bahá'ís from around the world gathered.[43][44] It was called to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the declaration of Bahá'u'lláh, and announce and present the election of the first members of the Universal House of Justice with the participation of over 50 National Spiritual Assemblies' members.

Period to the second Bahá'í World Congress[edit]

The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the British Isles was registered as a charity in 1967, and in 1972 the single National Spiritual Assembly was reformed into two — one of the United Kingdom, and one of the Republic of Ireland established that year.

George Hackney (1888 - 1977)[45] was a soldier in WWI at the Battle of the Somme and elsewhere, from Northern Ireland, and took pictures only recently unveiled to the public.[46] He converted to the Bahá'í Faith early of the region[47] in the 1960s.[46]:49:56–52:44 min

In 1973 there were 102 assemblies in the United Kingdom. In 1978 the Bahá'í marriage ceremony was recognised in Scotland, and the Bahá’í Holy Days were recognised by local education authorities throughout the United Kingdom.[48] It is estimated that between 1951 and 1993, Bahá'ís from the United Kingdom settled in 138 countries. It is probable that only the Bahá'í communities of Iran and the United States have sent out more pioneers than the United Kingdom, and they have much larger Bahá'í communities.

Recent developments[edit]

Since its inception the religion has had involvement in socio-economic development, beginning by giving greater freedom to women,[49] promulgating the promotion of female education as a priority concern,[50] and that involvement was given practical expression by creating schools, agricultural cooperatives, and clinics.[49] The religion entered a new phase of activity when a message of the Universal House of Justice dated 20 October 1983 was released.[51] Bahá'ís were urged to seek out ways, compatible with the Bahá'í teachings, in which they could become involved in the social and economic development of the communities in which they lived. Worldwide in 1979 there were 129 officially recognized Bahá'í socio-economic development projects. By 1987, the number of officially recognized development projects had increased to 1482. Recently, British Bahá'ís have been involved in Agenda 21 activities in the UK,[52] and have established an Institute for Social Cohesion as an agency of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United Kingdom responding to the challenges of the large diversity of the citizens in the vicinity of Hackney Central, and Britain in general including six Parliamentary seminars and two major conferences from 2001 to 2004.[53]

In February 2009 two open letters were published with lists including British citizens registering their opposition to the trial of Bahá'í leaders in Iran. The first was when some British were among the two hundred and sixty seven non-Bahá'í Iranian academics, writers, artists, journalists and activists from some 21 countries including Iran signed an open letter of apology posted to and stating they were "ashamed" and pledging their support for achieving the rights detailed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the Bahá'ís in Iran.[54] The second letter a few weeks later was when entertainers David Baddiel, Bill Bailey, Morwenna Banks, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Jo Brand, Russell Brand, Rob Brydon, Jimmy Carr, Jack Dee, Omid Djalili, Sean Lock, Lee Mack, Alexei Sayle, Meera Syal, and Mark Thomas said in an open letter printed in The Times of London of the Bahá'í leaders to be on trial in Iran: "In reality, their only 'crime', which the current regime finds intolerable, is that they hold a religious belief that is different from the majority…. We register our solidarity with all those in Iran who are being persecuted for promoting the best development of society …(and) with the governments, human rights organisations and people of goodwill throughout the world who have so far raised their voices calling for a fair trial, if not the complete release of the Baha’i leaders in Iran."[55] In between the open letters, on the 16th, British Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell expressed concern over the trial.[56] See Persecution of Bahá'ís.

Isle of Man Local Spiritual Assembly[edit]

Though not part of the United Kingdom, in 1993, a Local Spiritual Assembly was established on the Isle of Man[41] under the jurisdiction of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United Kingdom.


In 2004 Bahá'ís estimated there were over 5,000 members of the religion in the United Kingdom,[53] though the Association of Religion Data Archives (relying on World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated some 34,000 members.[57] A Christian source claims around 7 people claim to be Bahá'ís on the Falkland Islands,[58] though another maintains about 67 in 2000.[59]

Notable Bahá'ís[edit]

Omid Djalili and Inder Manocha are accomplished comedians who are Bahá'ís.[60][61]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i U.K. Bahá'í Heritage Site. "The Bahá'í Faith in the United Kingdom - A Brief History". Archived from the original on 26 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-18.
  2. ^ "Key Statistics for Local Authorities in England and Wales". 2011 UK Census. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  3. ^ a b c Moojan Momen (1981) [1977]. The Bábí and Bahá'í religions 1844-1944: some contemporary western accounts. G. Ronald. pp. xv, xvi, 4, 11, 26–38, 62–5, 83–90, 100–104. ISBN 978-0-85398-102-2.
  4. ^ National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States (1977). World Order. National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
  5. ^ Bahá'í Information Office (United Kingdom) (1989). "First Public Mentions of the Bahá'í Faith". Archived from the original on 26 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-18.
  6. ^ The Attempted Assassination of Nasir al Din Shah in 1852: Millennialism and Violence, by Moojan Momen, 2004-03-23
  7. ^ Momen, Moojan (August 2008). "Millennialism and Violence: The Attempted Assassination of Nasir al-Din Shah of Iran by the Babis in 1852". Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions. 12 (1): 57–82. doi:10.1525/nr.2008.12.1.57. JSTOR 10.1525/nr.2008.12.1.57.
  8. ^ Bahá'í International Community (1992-11-30). "Statement in rebuttal of Accusations made against the Baha'i Faith by the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations General Assembly, 37th session, November 1982" (pdf). Bahá'í Library Online. Retrieved 2010-10-10.
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  23. ^ `Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablet to the Bahá'ís of the United States and Canada, April, 11th, 1916
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  25. ^ Khanum, Rúhíyyih (1988). The Guardian of the Baha'i Faith. 27 Rutland Gate, London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. p. 13. ISBN 0-900125-59-4.
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External links[edit]